Dil Alihussein and her daughter Soleha sit at a table in the Northwest Community Center, a bright facility in the heart of Vickery Meadow, the densely populated neighborhood in northeast Dallas where many refugees live.
An elderly man walks in, face wrapped in a colorful scarf, small hat atop his head. He totters over to the medical clinic, pulling on the locked door even though no one is inside and the lights are off.
Dil stands up, greets him in his native tongue, and uses a combination of simple English and sign language to communicate that the clinic is closed. He is frustrated, but thankful for the tip.
As a Rohingya from Myanmar, Dil doesn’t speak the same language as the Nepalese man in search of the clinic, but her attention and care for those around her shines through. It’s what she feels called to do.
In her first semester at university fourteen years ago, an oppressive government interrupted Dil’s education, leaving her without direction in her native Myanmar. She says the government attacked Rohingya students in her university because it didn’t want people like her to be educated, work, or interact with society at large.
Witnessing numerous attacks and shootings, she fled by boat to Malaysia and lived with family, but swelling refugee populations made opportunity hard to find.
After 11 years in Malaysia, the UN approved her refugee status and she flew to Dallas with her husband and young son while pregnant with Soleha.
What stuck out to her about her new home was the way people were willing to help each other. “If someone needs help, those who can give help will give help,” she says.
Dil appreciates her family’s quickly achieved independence, and seeks to establish a level of independence for herself. In Myanmar, her future would be limited to the home, but women in the states balancing careers and motherhood inspire her.
She took English as a second language classes, a logistics class at a community college, and is working toward taking the GED. She also makes candles with Seek the Peace, a refugee advocacy nonprofit in Dallas, gaining valuable experience in the workplace.
Dil’s son Rafiqdin comes home with excellent marks, and was the most improved student in his kindergarten class. “He knows as much as I do,” she says.
Dil knows she couldn’t afford school for her children in Myanmar, and is encouraged by her son’s success. Dil volunteers one day a week in her son’s school, helping in the library and cafeteria. “I know I made the right decision.”
The moment with the Nepalese man is no fluke; compassion reigns in Dil’s worldview. She wants to help other refugee women find fulfillment in their new home, using her education as an example for others.
“I want to tell other communities of women that our life is not a tomb,” she says. “We have so much to do in our future.”